Not My Job: We Quiz Big Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton On Channel Surfing

Apr 27, 2019
Originally published on April 27, 2019 9:21 am

We've invited Laird Hamilton — legendary surfer, fitness model and lifestyle guru — to play a game called "Championship Channel Surfing." Three questions about terrible moments in television history.

Click the audio link above to find out how he does.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit


And now the game where talented people are confronted with a challenge that requires no talent at all. It's called Not My Job. Laird Hamilton is the most famous surfer who's never won a surfing competition, and he's never won one because he's never entered one. Instead, he spends his time doing remarkable things, like setting the record for the biggest wave ever surfed. He has a new book out called "Liferider." We are pleased to welcome him now. Laird Hamilton, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME!

LAIRD HAMILTON: Thank you very much for having me.


SAGAL: So I wanted to check that, too. Because if somebody - when somebody said your name, I was like, yeah, of course, Laird Hamilton, the champion surfer. But it turns out - am I right that you've never actually entered a surfing competition?

HAMILTON: Yeah, I surfed in a couple when I was a kid when there was a T-shirt for the prize. But as soon as the money came into it, it seemed like that changed the dynamics, and I opted to not participate.

SAGAL: We understand that - it's not surprising you've spent your life on the water because you were actually born in water.

HAMILTON: Well, that's - well, I was born in a - using a bathysphere which was actually like - almost like a hairdresser's vacuum that went over my mother's stomach and relieved the pressure on the abdomen. So it wasn't birthed in a tub, but I did have a unique birthing process. Let's just put it that way.

SAGAL: Yeah. Do you think that ended up sort of steering the course of your life?

HAMILTON: Well, I would like to say it didn't affect me, but other people disagree.


SAGAL: So I'm going to ask you a basic question. What is your job, Laird Hamilton?

HAMILTON: You know, I would say innovator. I like innovation. And, you know, I mean, I've made a career as an athlete. I've subsidized my surfing with a lot of different things.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Laird, when you surf, like, for a living, who pays you?

HAMILTON: Well, just sponsors, you know.

POUNDSTONE: And how do they know to do that? I mean, you're a guy with a surfboard, and you go to the beach, and there's a wave, and you surf it. And then somebody runs over and gives you a check.


HAMILTON: Yeah, well, no, you ride a giant wave. Somebody takes a picture. They put it on the cover of National Geographic. And then...


HAMILTON: And then a company says, you know, we'd love to give you some money, and try to get on National Geographic again (laughter).

SAGAL: And that - I just want to make it clear to Paula and everybody else, that actually happened, right?


SAGAL: Yes. So what do you think, in your estimation, is sort of the craziest or riskiest or maybe even most foolish thing you've ever done because you wanted to?

HAMILTON: You know, there's a long list. It's just - I...

POUNDSTONE: (Laughter).

HAMILTON: We don't have enough time. But, you know, I've done some crazy paddles between islands. I paddled from Corsica to Italy one time. And we were kind of lost at night paddling around in the middle of the Mediterranean. And...

POUNDSTONE: Oh, my gosh.

HAMILTON: ...You know, I've had some other - I've been - I was in Russia, and I fell through a glacier when I was helicopter snowboarding in some military helicopters. And, I mean, you know, just...

SAGAL: Wait a minute, hold on.

LUKE BURBANK: That happened to you, too.


SAGAL: You got to...


SAGAL: ...Ride...


SAGAL: You got to ride on a Russian military helicopter...


SAGAL: ...To a glacier in Russia...


SAGAL: ...And then you went snowboarding down the glacier.

HAMILTON: Yeah, but we - I fell in. I fell through a cornice at one point. We'd been riding most of the day, and I was hiking behind one of my partners, and I fell through this - a cornice that, you know, had I been in the wrong - you know, a couple feet over, I might not be, you know, on this phone call right now.

SAGAL: So...

HAMILTON: (Laughter).

SAGAL: ...First of all, was it hard to get the Russian military to let you do that? Or they were like, Laird Hamilton...


SAGAL: ...We love your shorts or...

HAMILTON: ...No, it wasn't anything about Laird. It was more like, you know, money for vodka.

SAGAL: Yeah, OK.


HAMILTON: And there was a couple of bullet holes in it, you know, in the bird. And, you know, and it was...

BURBANK: And you still got in.

HAMILTON: There was a pilot. He was flying it, so...

SAGAL: Do you ever...

BURBANK: Sure, a pilot you paid with vodka.


BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: That's a very low bar. It's refreshing to hear an American that has no problem admitting that the Russians helped him.

SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: I guess.

HAMILTON: Absolutely.

SAGAL: So let's take one of those instances. You're - you've fallen through a glacier, and you're in a big hole in the ice, or you are somewhere...


SAGAL: ...Between Corsica and...

HAMILTON: Lost at sea.

SAGAL: ...Italy on a - you were on a paddleboard or a surfboard on that particular trip.

HAMILTON: Paddleboard.

SAGAL: So you're standing there on a board in the middle of the ocean. It's dark. You don't know where you are. Has there ever been a point where you said, oh, man, I screwed this up now? Or have you - do you just not ever, like, lose your faith?

HAMILTON: No, there's been a lot of those.

SAGAL: Really?



SAGAL: Really, you're like, oh...

HAMILTON: Absolutely.

SAGAL: ...Man.

HAMILTON: More than once, yeah.


HAMILTON: I think you get kind of good at it actually. You're like, oh, here I am again. I...

SAGAL: Yeah.


HAMILTON: I hope I make it out of this one.


SAGAL: You're somebody other people admire so much. And I'm just wondering if you've ever found yourself in a moment going, man, I wish I had become a CPA like Mom wanted.


HAMILTON: Well - yeah, never that. I think in a way...


SAGAL: Well, let's not go crazy.


GOLDTHWAIT: Let me get this straight - you snowboard glaciers, but the most terrifying thing is being a CPA.


SAGAL: Well, I understand that one of the things that you're doing is you have a really rigorous - I don't know - it's - exercise program is not sufficient, right? It's kind of a training program you offer to people.

HAMILTON: Yeah, well, we have an experience called an XPT, which kind of stands for exploring performance training. But it really is a lifestyle program, and it's really about recovery, move and breathe.

SAGAL: I don't know how accurate this is, but somebody told me, oh, yes, that's the program where you have to go underwater and lift weights while holding your breath.

HAMILTON: There is that part.


SAGAL: So that's part of the...

POUNDSTONE: Would you call that the recovery?

SAGAL: That's part of...


SAGAL: ...Recovery and not just killing you. Like, a normal weight program might make you go into a gym and lift weights. But you, because you're more generous to people, make them go underwater.


HAMILTON: Yes, actually. If you're - you know, we use the weights to hold us down, and we do a lot of explosive jumping.

SAGAL: Wait a minute...

HAMILTON: A friend of mine's a professional...

SAGAL: ...You use the weights to hold you down...


SAGAL: ...In the bottom of the pool.


SAGAL: How many clients have you lost?


HAMILTON: None that we know of.

SAGAL: All right.


HAMILTON: But I haven't looked in the pool today.


SAGAL: Well, Laird Hamilton, it is a pleasure to talk to you. We've invited you here today to play a game we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: Championship Channel-Surfing.

SAGAL: You, of course, are a big-wave...

POUNDSTONE: (Laughter).

SAGAL: ...Surfer. But from everything we know, you're probably not very good at America's favorite kind of surfing - channel-surfing. We're going to ask you three questions about terrible moments in television history. If you answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - the voice of their choice on their answering machine. Bill, who is Laird Hamilton playing for?

KURTIS: Evan Hansen of Princeton, N.J.

SAGAL: And they've got a big surf scene there, so I'm sure he's a fan.


SAGAL: All right, here we go. First question - there was once a failed cable channel called Genesis Storytime - didn't last very long. It was created just for kids. What programming did Genesis Storytime offer? Was it, A, it reenacted other cable TV shows, like "The Sopranos" and "Homeland" but with puppets and clean language; B, it was just a series of still images of pages from children's books so that a parent could sit and read the TV to their kid; or, C, it purported to teach kids, quote, "real life skills," such as asking people out on dates and cures for hangovers?

HAMILTON: I think I'll go with B.

SAGAL: You're going to go with B. You're right, Laird.


SAGAL: You nailed that.


SAGAL: Very weird idea. You turn it on, there'd be a page of a kid's picture book. You'd read the page. And after a short period of time, it would switch to the next page, and you'd read that page.

POUNDSTONE: Sounds awful.

SAGAL: It didn't last long. All right...


SAGAL: ...Next...

HAMILTON: We need books, yeah.

SAGAL: Yeah, that's true. They have those. It's - you don't have to plug them in. Next question. There are some shows that have come and gone very, very quickly, as in which of these - which of these shows appeared only to disappear almost instantly? A, Fox's "Who's Your Daddy?" - a game show in which an adult, who had been given up for adoption, guesses which of the 25 men on the set is their father; B...


SAGAL: ...PBS' trigonometry teaching educational comedy show "Coseinefeld" (ph)...


SAGAL: ...Or C, NBC's crossover experiment, "Law & Order & Frazier."


HAMILTON: I'll have to go with B again.

SAGAL: You're going to go with the trigonometry teaching educational comedy show "Coseinfeld."

KURTIS: What's the deal with hypotenuse?


HAMILTON: No, I'll go with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A.


SAGAL: You're right, of course.


SAGAL: And this is all true...


SAGAL: ...If you guessed right, you got $100,000, at which point your dad suddenly took an interest in you again.


SAGAL: All right, last question - if you sit there and channel-surf long enough, you'll end up on the home shopping channel.


SAGAL: That can make, sometimes, for unexpectedly memorable viewing. Which of these actually happened on the home shopping channel? Was it, A, after a host whacked the blade of a samurai sword on the counter to show its strength, the blade snapped and stabbed him in the chest; B, a man showed off a photo of a moth taken by the camera he was selling but then, for a full minute, referred to the moth as a horse; or, C...


SAGAL: ...A woman selling jumper cables decided to show what happens when you switch the cables on the car battery, setting the battery on fire?


HAMILTON: I just - I'm excited. I'm going samurai.

SAGAL: You're going to go with the samurai sword. You're right. But then again, all of them really happened.


SAGAL: And you thought the home shopping channel was dull.


HAMILTON: You know, I felt like they all could have, but somehow I just kind of liked the whole...

SAGAL: Yeah, me, too...

HAMILTON: ...You know...

SAGAL: ...I'd have to say.

HAMILTON: ...Samurai sword - knife - stabs the guy, yeah.

SAGAL: Out of the three of them, that's the one that I would be most likely to do, so yeah, I agree with you.

HAMILTON: (Laughter).

SAGAL: Bill, how did Laird Hamilton do on our quiz?

KURTIS: He got them all right.

SAGAL: Of course, he did. He's Laird Hamilton. Good Lord.


SAGAL: Laird Hamilton is a legend of surfing and many, many other things. His new book, "Liferider," is out now. Laird Hamilton, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. A pleasure to talk to you.


HAMILTON: Thank you and aloha.


SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill ties the knot and brings all his baggage in the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.